Do consumers have a gender preference when it comes to brand names?

Discussion
Photo: @EsruTheGreat via Twenty20
Jun 02, 2021

Linguistically feminine brand names are perceived by consumers as warmer and are therefore better liked and more frequently chosen, according to a new university study.

In the paper, “Is Nestlé a Lady? The Feminine Brand Name Advantage,” researchers from University of Calgary, University of Montana, HEC Paris and University of Cincinnati said several factors determine whether a name is perceived as feminine or masculine:

  • Women’s names tend to be longer, have more syllables, have stress on the second or later syllable and end with a vowel (e.g., Amánda).
  • Men’s names tend to be shorter with one stressed syllable, or with stress on the first of two syllables, and end in a consonant (e.g., Éd or Édward).

Analyzing the highest ranking brands on Interbrand’s Global Top Brands list over the past twenty years, the study found 55 percent, including Coca-Cola, Nike, Disney and IKEA, had feminine names, 36 percent had masculine-sounding names. Nine percent had gender-neutral names.

Participants in conducted studies also rated brands with linguistically feminine names, including made-up ones, as warmer, thereby increasing purchase intentions.

Feminine-sounding brands were found to be more appealing because they are associated with traits like trustworthiness, sincerity, friendliness, tolerance and good nature.

“People tend to process certain words instinctively, triggering associations that they may be unaware of,” Ruth Pogacar, a co-author and a professor at the University of Calgary, told The Wall Street Journal.

The advantage was found to be reduced if the product was designed only for men (e.g., men’s sneakers) and eliminated when the product was strictly functional, like bathroom scales.

Brand names represent a consumer’s “first point of contact and can, therefore, drive initial impressions, associations, and expectations,” according to the study.

The internet is flooded with tips on coming up with good brand names. Lately, search engine optimization, URL competition and social media appeal have emerged as principal concerns. The study’s researchers also cite the fact that “as new brands are introduced daily, securing a desirable name is a growing challenge due to the limited number of existing words to trademark.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does it make sense that feminine-sounding names have an advantage in appealing to consumers? What suggestions do you have for coming up with brand names?

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"While this study is interesting, I find it all a bit pointless and odd."

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21 Comments on "Do consumers have a gender preference when it comes to brand names?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

While this study is interesting, I find it all a bit pointless and odd. It is extremely difficult to disentangle exactly why consumers perceive existing brands as they do and to claim that it is because of “gendered” names. For example, people likely do see IKEA as a warm company – but that is because of many factors including its Swedish roots, its colorful stores, its use of humor in marketing and product naming, its association with family, and so forth. And when determining where to shop for furniture, many other factors – well beyond the name – come into play.

Under the description above, Target could be a masculine name. However I don’t see that holding the brand back. Our research consistently shows it as a retailer held in great affection by consumers.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

I agree with you Neil. Plus this study appears to have looked at the past 20 years, not the current state or the future.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Yes, I think the study is meaningless. I don’t think they are measuring the sound of the names, but what the names have come to represent over the last umpteen years.

Ron Margulis
BrainTrust

I always prefer brand names that give at least a little indication of the promised end state for the user.

George Anderson
Staff

Should we tell Apple they screwed up? ;o)

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

This may have been true in the past, but times have changed. Younger shoppers are more open about gender roles, and today brand names that sound androgynous are hot (Wildfang, One DNA, Telfar, Black Crane). Retailers with neutral sounding names are gaining revitalized popularity (Athleta, Kohl’s, Michaels, HMV). Naming is an important part of the brand story, but as women have become increasingly bad ass in both movies and real life, so should the names of the products they buy.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Hmmm. This feels a little bit like a “chicken or egg” situation. The brands listed in Tom’s article (Coca-Cola, Nike, IKEA, Disney, etc.) are all well-established brands that have spent a fortune carefully crafting and nurturing those brands. I have admittedly not read the research beyond Tom’s excerpts, but it seems that while there may be a correlation between feminine names and brand affinity, I certainly don’t see causation.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Coca-Cola, Nike, Disney and IKEA had feminine brand names. Really? I had to read the article several times to understand what the study was arguing. To me each of those four have masculine sounding names. OK, Nike was a goddess, but who knows that? I wonder if the research is a bit backwards. Is Disney feminine because it has been family oriented for 90 years? Is IKEA feminine because it focuses on products in the home? Would Target be feminine because it is a warm and welcoming place, ignoring the fact of what a target is?

When selecting a brand name, how about if you select one that best describes the product and test it, test it, test it.

I try never to be a male chauvinist, but I think the Nike t-shirt, the Levi’s jeans, the Adidas socks and the Asics sneakers all sound masculine to me.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

It’s funny, but neither Nike, Levi’s, Adidas or Asics sound masculine or feminine to me. I know Nike is a goddess, and Levi Strauss was a man, but I bet if we did an “on the street” Q&A most people wouldn’t know that. Nor would they care, they just like the product. I’m wearing an outfit from Ann Taylor today so I didn’t have to look very far to figure out that brand gender. 😉

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Exactly, that is why this study is silly.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Nike and Coca-Cola are feminine names? I completely missed that memo.

I think consumers equate brand names more with what they offer, and how those names make them feel when they think about what they sell, than they do with gender.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

Nike is the Greek goddess of victory, so definitely a female name :-). Coca-Cola surely not. I agree with you on consumers equating brand names with what they offer and how those names make them feel when they think about what they sell. On branding and positioning, I always like to go back to Al Ries, who says in his book “Positioning, the battle for your mind” — “What you must look for is a name that begins with the positioning process, a name that tells the prospect what the product’s major benefit is.” Of course, there are always successful examples like Apple that defied the logic; on that Ries says, it’s their timing (being first in the category) that helped them succeed.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

That book has really stood the test of time! It’s one of my favorites.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

So, I’ll say it. This study is ridiculous, quasi-misogynistic, fairly irrational, and — well — just plain silly. Let’s look at those “feminine-sounding” names like Coca-Cola, Disney and IKEA. Nothing screams stereotypical femininity to me more than Coca-Cola. Disney? Seriously? Does this mean that men who are insecure in their masculinity are more likely to drink Pepsi or vacation at Cedar Point? Now there may (or may not) be something to the notion that people warm to names that are, “longer, have more syllables, have stress on the second or later syllable and end with a vowel.” But why not just make up brand names that fit those criteria? Of course, it may be the case that you get what you measure, especially when you are being flagrantly arbitrary. Although — it does give me pause to reconsider old Walt. I never thought of him as gender fluid before, but what do I know?

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I asked the ladies at my coffee shop if feminine-sounding names on products sway them. Their answer: “Go to work, Rich.”

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

This looks to be a classic study projecting causation from correlation — what is accidental or simply due to the names sounding better. We need to always be skeptical of studies about brand names because product is far more critical to success than brand name.

After all, no modern brand consultant would recommend names like “Kellogg’s” or “Chevrolet.” Yet they are highly successful. Why? The specific name is only somewhat important.

Can’t we attribute some deeply buried psychological reason to why the names might sound better? No. some words are just more interesting.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Pretty mediocre research based on even more mediocre references. Assumes masculinity/femininity are fixed concepts in people’s mind that do not change over time or are not subject to marketing. That’s not true. We should all ignore this and do something more interesting with the rest of our day.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

If you were launching a new brand, wouldn’t you want to understand the linguistic implications on the perceived brand qualities? This research takes existing stereotypes in cultural gender biases as a given. The authors investigate the linguistic aspects of gender associations with desirable brand qualities and outcomes. It’s important to note that this research is not normative in the sense of stating what ought to be (eliminating damaging stereotypes); rather, they explore taking advantage of cultural biases. The research shortcomings include any non-critical application in cross-cultural and non-English speaking populations. Despite those limitations, any new brand naming exercise that overlooks the linguistic effect ignores a substantial body of evidence on brand performance. For those interested in changing the cultural status quo, they’d need to look into critical linguistics, not the Journal of Marketing.

RandyDandy
Guest
2 months 1 day ago
I agree with all the esteemed commentators, in that this particular study seems unnecessary. However, it could be that it’s a wrong study, but headed in a more right direction. What I believe is a vastly more interesting and related conversation (and possible survey) is in how so many current companies are having to deal with naming the products they make as “gender neutral,” “unisex,” and/or “racially sensitive.” And at a time when it is still rather obvious that mainstream consumers continue to need verbal as well as visual cues to help them make (better or worse?) choices. Or at least ones they’ll feel comfortable making. I say this after having worked (and working) for many makers of goods that do, indeed, have feminine, masculine, and sometimes non-gender-specific aspects which are enhanced (made more alluring) with a well-chosen name. Examples: Cleo for a cat-eye sunglass or stripe-y blouse, and “cherry blossom” pink or “Congo” green for geo-physical references. But are you allowed to do such things, without consequence? Or is it more correct (and the… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I won’t belabor the point but hopefully, this is an example of research that has value once you get into it … because it sure doesn’t seem to have much from a casual look at it.

As for what one SHOULD do, that depends obviously on what the product is (and of course so many products are named eponymously, it’s frequently a non-issue).

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

This is a silly study that nobody should take seriously.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"While this study is interesting, I find it all a bit pointless and odd."

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